Posted by: Katherine Raleigh
Programme Manager on Thu 24 Nov

Welcome to the latest in a new series of brief interviews with guest experts from KnowledgeBrief’s Innovation Programmes, providing a window into the experts’ latest ideas and new advice for executives.

Jeanne Meinholt, Senior Researcher at KnowledgeBrief (KB), discussed how organisations can leverage the wisdom of crowds to increase their internal innovation capacity with Dr. Matthew Mount (MM) from Leeds Business School, after our Innovation Day in November.

KB: What’s the key business challenge that organisations need to address, that your research tackles?

MM: When faced with the task of ‘doing innovation’ and coming up with the firm’s next big idea, managers encounter a challenge of searching for and finding the necessary inspiration. One may anticipate that living in an information age powered by ubiquitous internet access and an abundance of smart devices that this search will be easy. Yet, the individual capacity of any manager to search extensively and select appropriately gradually diminishes as they are exposed to higher and higher volumes of information. Research has shown that managers revert back to a known reality under such conditions, causing them to select ideas narrowly and perform badly whilst innovating. Thus, managers are faced with an innovation paradox, as searching extensively is simultaneously good and bad for innovation performance. The question is: How can managers bridge this attention gap between search and selection?

KB: What advice would you give to executives, based on your findings?

MM: The notion of crowdsourcing offers managers with a potential solution. Crowdsourcing refers to the act of outsourcing a task once performed by an individual employee or small group of internal employees to a large ‘crowd’ of individuals that may be internal or external to the organisation. While crowds are generally acknowledged to be contributors to the search stage of innovation, they can also be used to facilitate idea selection. That is, crowds can be used to direct managerial attention towards the most innovative ideas so they can better navigate the abundance of information and knowledge that they are exposed to. Thus, more effort needs to be made with regards to how to manage crowds.

KB: How does your latest research approach this? What do the results indicate?

MM: My own research backs up this bold assertion. By conducting an experiment in which crowds were used to generate and select ideas for an organisation with an innovation challenge, we found that they were able to direct managerial attention towards a smaller, more manageable subset of ideas. Crowds in this sense serve as an idea detector that can identify potential ‘gems’ in a beach full of pebbles. It is then the task of managers to evaluate this smaller subset of gems rather than walk the beach searching and selecting themselves.

KB: What did you learn or take away from meeting with the executives in the KnowledgeBrief Innovation Programmes?

MM: It was evident from our session that the perils of search and limitations of managerial attention resonated with many of the executives that attended the KnowledgeBrief Innovation Programme. Yet, the novelty of crowdsourcing represents too much of an unknown quality to invest any time and or effort. It was nice to see, however, a practical presentation in the afternoon by an Executive from Baxi that quashed a lot of these anxieties, who is really pushing the boundaries and testing the efficacy of internal crowding. A key message here is don’t be frightened; start small, go and get your hands dirty, learn what works for your business and the challenges you face.

With thanks to Dr. Matthew Mount, Assistant Professor at Leeds Business School.

Next month, clients will be diving into an insightful and thought-provoking session exploring future technologies, innovations and revolutions with Professor Mischa Dohler from King’s College London. Find out more here.

Part of a new series of brief interviews with expert guests from our Innovation Programmes, we cover insights from the latest research and key advice for executives to stay ahead in management and innovation.

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